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Dr. Boettke,

I do agree that the debate over the label Austrian is justified; however, not in the sense that you discuss. The question should be framed as such:

Do those who promulgate and support methodological individualism and (Misean/Weberian) purposive action deserve to wear the label "Austrian?"

As far as the dearth of comments regarding N. Klein's book, I agree, somewhat, there too. But, where I would disagree is not that I do not believe that Austrians have their intellectual priorities confused; rather, I believe that Austrians spend most of their time speaking to and reading the work of economists (neo-classical, Austrian, institutional etc.) who overwhelmingly agree with what they say. Finally, I think that you would discover much more passion about N. Klein's work (and other opponents of the liberal order) if Austrian's subscribed and/or submitted their work to sociology, history, and anthropological journals.


I have to say you summed up the Austrian label point precisely on the same grounds as I would. As Lachmann wrote in his review of Human Action, "we must remember this the continuation of the work of Max Weber." Praxeology was the substitute word Mises used to describe what he used to label sociology --- the interpretative sociology of Max Weber.

At least that is the start, methodological individualism as understood in those terms (as opposed to methodological individualism as understood in the atmostic sense).

Could be that everyone who posts here already agrees on free market capitalism, thus there is little to comment on.

The comments are what they are:

Comments are the sort of stuff we don't bother to make blog posts about. I wouldn't even worry about the intellectual priorities of those commenting. Commenting extremely easy, so people can make a lot of comments on low level priorities freely.

anon means soon in shakespeare right?

I think the real crime is the belief that the Austrian school represents a set of well-established principles and doctrines which all of its members accept without critical appraisal.

It is easy enough to search for confirming instances of received doctrine. The real test is to seek circumstances in which this theory does not hold. This method of investigation enables us as theorists to improve our analysis in light of these revealed anomalies and/or abandon the theory altogether. Popper described this process as follows:

P1 -- TS -- EE -- P2

We recognize or introduce an initial problem which is followed by trial solutions. Through careful error elimination, we end up with only a new problem in which the process is repeated. No theory can ever be conclusively verified or confirmed. All statements are provisional, and must be regarded as such. We cannot say Marx was wrong because Mises was right. All human action is fallible, even deductive reasoning. Their is no such thing as a value-free science, or apodictically true statements.

I think Austrians should instead concentrate their efforts on criticizing their own program rather than applying it to contemporary economic problems and controversies. I am convinced that the Austrian school would benefit from such criticism.

I have spent the last few weeks searching for ways in which the Austrian school can be falsified. To do this, I have not been reading Marx or Lerner. I have instead gone back and re-read the work of Mises and Kirzner. In other words, I have been using puzzle pieces that are familiar to all Austrians, I have just been designing and constructing different pictures.

This is what leads to progress and advances in knowledge. Nothing is to be gained from engaging in conversation where each participant is speaking beyond the other because the language, terminology, and concepts are different for each person.

Pure self-indulgence. Sorry if that stings. It reaaly is time to stop crapping on about methodological purity, reconciling contradictory statements (the Talmudic approach), and being 'voices in the wildnessness'. Just a thought. Could you imagine if those 73 comments (and the underlying passion) were aimed at promoting Austrian views to the outside world, rather than narrowing the base?


Your post just begs the question. Just what Austrian views should we present to the public? Who is an Austrian and what do they believe about economic methodology? If Mises is considered to be the most consistent Austrian, then should we judge someone's "Austrianness" by how close they approximate the views of Mises? Do we accept Lachmann as an Austrian? Surely, Shackle is far too radical. What about Don Lavoie and the hermeneutics program? Was all that just a waste of time for the Austrian school?

This is the question--- What is the Austrian school? Joe Salerno recently criticized Pete Boettke for his views of the Austrian school. Great! Let's get this debate rolling. Why is Joe wrong? Or why was Pete wrong?

One reason for talking a lot to each other is that we have the sense that someone is listening and responding. That is not the impression that one gets from trying to talk to the left and others who detest our ideas, it is like dropping a stone down a well and waiting for the splash.

The strength of the Austrian school, at least the Australian version (the Even More Austrian school of Popper plus the other Austro Hungarians including the Buhlers and Wellek) is that it is robust both in theory and its practical applications. As one of the pragmatists said, there is nothing as practical as a good theory.

The Austrians and quasi Austriins like Tyler can make progress on two fronts, one by unpacking the practical consequences of our theories by the historical analysis of economic events and the outcome of policies. The other by unpacking the implications of a set of philosophical and metaphysical assumptions that underpin those theories. Perhaps there is third leg on the stool, that is the communication and marketing exercise to get the message out in all the different kinds of publications and media bearing in mind that opponents (and people who think of themselves as opponents due to ignorance and bad PR on our part) and the general public are not going to go out of the way to find the good things that we have to offer.

Let's get this debate rolling.

Why not rather debate with the broader world? Why not write for a broader audience showing Austrian insight? Why waste effort showing that Joe or Pete are only 99.5% pure when they could be 99.9% pure? Why not show that neoclassical policy prescription are very wrong, rather than the other guy is slightly wrong?

I know that asking lots of rhetorical questions is bad form, and all. 'Look out the window' is great advice, Austrian economists should do that too.

Rafe Champion and Sinclair Davidson raise some interesting points that I don't think they were fully aware of. I would like to draw attention to these.

Rafe spoke of the level of engagement that occurs among Austrians talking among themselves, and how this level of intimacy seems to disappear when the conversation is extended to members of the left. Similarly, Sinclair talked about the importance of challenging the views held by "broader audiences."

There is a subtle problem with these arguments however. When one takes his methodology and presents it to theorists, economists or philosophers of a different camp, the problem of incommensurability emerges. Both camps may be using identical words and concepts (cost, utility, plan, capital, knowledge, etc.) but intend for them to mean totally different things. Different (competing)theories cannot logically be compared because they speak different languages. And if a confrontation does occur, both theories will use their own language in defending themselves. They will, in other words, speak over each other. How do we resolve the paradox of linguistic meaning?

This is a serious problem for economic methodology. And Austrians have suffered from it no less than other schools of thought. This is why I believe that Austrian economics can only be vindicated and improved internally. But in order to do this, we have to try to find out what is wrong with it. This requires us to advance bold claims that will forever remain "permanently conjectural." It is dangerous when the followers of a school believe that science and epistemology eventually lead to the discovery of definitive statements and explanations. This leads one to believe that if their school or methodology is to survive, it must at all costs expend every resource to try to sustain it against attempts at refutation. One must come to embrace falsification. It is the way to growth. Popper said it best, "The man who welcomes and acts on criticism will prize it almost above friendship: the man who fights it out of concern to maintain his position is clinging to non-growth."

So if one is concerned with greater exposure to the mainstream of the profession, then I would suggest first trying to introduce falsification into economic theory. If one is concerned with the state of the Austrian school alone, I would suggest comprehensively implementing a program of critical rationalism which teaches its students to first learn the arguments Austrians have made, and then try to find out how those arguments can be improved or even falsified. This will lead to a state of enthusiasm in which short-comings are actively sought out and critical comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Is this blog big enough for two Popperian interlopers?

Dear Matthew,

First, Hayek improved upon Popper in his work on the social sciences --- and in this sense Popper moved more toward Hayek in later writings rather than Hayek becoming a Popperian. For example, the move from The Logic of Scientific Discovery to Conjectures and Refutations. This is explained in his Explanation of the Principle and other essays in this genre of Hayek scholarship. Bruce Caldwell might be the best person to read on this.

Second, I am all for methodology, but please remember that Austrian economists are ECONOMISTS first and endless discussions of the philosophical foundations of a discpline is not their comparative advantage. Let philosophers have that discussion, and let economics be consumers of philosophy and take on-board the philosophic positions they find most compelling for their work. Now this is not an excuse to be philosophically non-reflective, but it is a pragmatic issue of getting on with ones work in a spirit of self-critical engagement with the world. I have often argued with my students that while the typical economic advise is to not read methodology, I argue you should read methodology at least twice --- as a young PhD student to decide what approach you want to take on, and at the end of our careers to critically reflect on your choice.

Also, you have to discuss the nature of criticism. Criticism in economics, I would argue, takes the form of the logic chains of an argument, and the relevance of the propositions to the problems at hand. Criticism over purity to a doctrine is NOT productive criticism in science (I would argue). No, scientific criticms requires taking on the BEST interpretation of one's opponent and showing that it fails on its own terms, or is irrelevant for the task at hand. Otherwise, criticism turns into a form of intellectual masturbation.

I think Popper would agree with me --- conjectures and refutations is the right language for scientific engagement, not smears and snears.

Austrians economics will advance when our work in applied economics is better than others, and at that point we can explain the reason why it is better is because our theory is better and our method of interpretation is superior. Until "we" produce better explanations of the world "out the window" we will not make much progress, no matter how philosophically sophisticated or critical we are.

On the evolution of Popper's thought, Ian Jarvie has a fascinating thesis that there was a "social turn" in Popper's work from the beginning. Social in the sense that methodology is about the formulation and criticism of "rules of the game" of learning and research. So Popper was a "conventionalist" not in the theory of truth but in taking account of the indispensible role of conventions. The main themes of Jarvie's 2002 book can be found here. http://www.the-rathouse.com/rev_jarvie.html

At a tangent, it is interesting to find that Popper anticipated the sociology of science (and crticised it) in the work of Mannheim, a generation before Kuhn and the Edinburgh School.


On another tangent, Popper may have been mistaken to regard the problem of demarcation as the most fundamental in the philosophy of science. Why? We want good theories that explain things and stand up to all kinds of criticism - internal consistency, consistency with other theories, practical tests. Why the mystique of "Science"? Maybe that is a product of positivism and scientism, so science took on a more strict and technical meaning beyond merely a systematic or delibarative approach, like Carl Menger's approach to fishing.

Because for some reason, we can't stop pissing away time and energy fighting amongst ourselves. I owe the Mises Institute a huge debt when it comes to my intellectual development. I have great respect for Dr. Salerno. I also have great respect for Dr. Boettke, and although I have never had the opportunity to meet him, I love this blog and I come here to learn from it. I embrace Austrian economics because as a scientist I seek to understand how the world works, and I have done that by learning economics as the study of human action and its consequences, not as being about money or the equal distribution of resources or ways to make the world more ethical through price controls or any of the other bull**** people think econ is about. Petty infighting and sniping has an opportunity cost, and we can't afford it! I wish we could quit spending time on it and start spending time teaching people what's really important about economics: human action and its consequences. I'd like to be welcome at both the MI and GMU, learn from both, and help spread those ideas to others, even if I'm not an economist. Is there really anything to argue with there? That said, I suppose I should put my time where my mouth is and go comment on the Klein post.

Dr. Boettke,

I would like to respond to some of the comments you made to my earlier posts. This is not intended to display my intellectual superiority or command of a greater wealth of knowledge in this subject than you. Please don't mistake my eagerness to discuss these issues as a demonstration of academic haughtiness.

First, I would argue that Hayek was indeed influenced by Popper and not the other way around. Popper published the Logic of Scientific Discovery in German in 1934 and Conjectures and Refutations in 1963 I believe. Hayek began his work on social evolution and group selection well after these dates, and, I would argue, after serious study of Popper's view of evolution as a problem-solving process. I need to go back to Bruce Caldwell's intellectual biography of Hayek, but I can recall that he treated Hayek's publications chronologically, and, not surprisingly, Hayek's relationship with Popper is mentioned at the very end of the book, which suggests that Popper entered the Hayekian story only after Hayek discovered the brilliance of Popper's work. (Popper was not asleep at the wheel during this time; he published Objective Knowledge while Hayek was thinking about business cycles in equilibrium terms.)

And I would argue that the philosophically uninterested are the principal culprits of avoiding discussion over economic methodology. Let me give you an analogy. Positivists and empiricists are still searching for a solution to the problem of induction. Their entire philosophy depends on their ability to make generalizations from single obersavtions. But it does not follow logically that past occurrences somehow determine the course of future events. This makes the foundation of their entire epistemology disastrously embarrasing. Now I am happy to say that some of these philosophers recognized the futility of their program and became skeptics. But most referred to matters of probability and pragmatism, as you do in the second paragraph of your post. They say, "Let's trash all this talk of certainty and truth and instead concern ourselves with matters of empirical results and practical application." This is what I like to call a philosophical dodge.

Now the nature of criticism is indeed complicated, and involves discussion over the use of language and linguistics. Some, like Wittgenstein, were obsessed with this. Others, no less brilliant, like Russell, regarded this as a waste of time. I happen to think that the best way to approach criticism is through "the philosophy of rhetoric." D. Wade Hands' book "Reflection without Rules" has a great section on this in his Pragmatic turn chapter. And Donald/Diedre McCloskey's work is also a noteworthy source to consult on this matter. Our concern is not with truth and falsehood, but rather with conversation and persuasion. Our ultimate aim in discussion is persuasion.

I think the state of applied economics today is seriously flawed. Rather than participating in this failed program, I think we should try to effect a paradigm shift. This will succeed only through critical engagement over the fundamentals of economic methodology.


It is my understanding that Hayek was a key figure in getting the Open Society and its Enemies published and also brining Popper from New Zealand to the LSE. So it is not like Hayek only became aware of Popper later in his career if you were implying that.

Caldwell has written several essays on Popper --- including his JEL survey. Again the critical issue is the idea in Hayek of The explanation of the principle and the modification of the notion of testing. Several essays in Hayek's Studies, and then New Studies, are very relevant.

Have you read Malachi Hacohen's biography? I think there is a lot to disagree with in the book, but it is a very good exercise in contextualizing Popper's development. His relationship with Hayek is problematic for Hacohen due to the perceived "right wing" implications of Hayek.

Finally, at a more fundamental level what do you make of the Duhem-Quine thesis?

P.S.: I've been running a weekly workshop in Philosophy, Politics and Economics for close to a decade now and am always looking for philosophers to come present papers --- we have had David Schmidtz, Loren Lomasky, Jon Elster, Chandran Kukathus, Mike Huemer, Dan Hausman, Chris Morris, etc. over the years. But I really would love to get some other philosophers in who care about economic argument. Please send me your homepage or sample of your work and we will try to find a mutually agreeable date.

BTW, when I was at the LSE in 2004 as the Hayek Lecturer I attended several of Nancy Cartwright's lectures on economics and philosophy. It would be outstanding if we had that level of discourse in the US, but outside of Dan Hausman there aren't that many philosophers who address economics that seriously in my opinion.

I'm all for engaging with our ideological foes instead of having in-fights. But Naomi Klein? I have to agree with the first (and only) commenter on that post: she hardly merits our consideration. Stiglitz should be ashamed for giving her far more attention and credit than she deserves. If we're going to engage with our foes, let's engage with the best of them.

Why don´t you guys once read something else than Popper when it comes to methodology? I have recently re-discovered good old positivism. If one re-reads today the writings of Hempel (his 'Philosophy of Natural Science' is a pearl), Nagel, Reichenbach etc. one is struck by the fascinating quality of these writings, much better than many of the things that came afterwards...

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